Larry Elliott, 16 September 2008
It was Black Monday. Banks going bust. Stock markets in turmoil. A nosedive in the share price of HBOS, Britain's biggest mortgage lender. The brainboxes who come up with complex models of how financial markets work say that these sorts of things are supposed to happen only once in a blue moon. But at the moment it is a case of another week, another crisis.
A week ago it was the effective nationalisation of the American mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yesterday, jobless bankers at Lehman Brothers were clearing their desks. With the virus spreading, there were doubts yesterday as to whether Washington Mutual, America's biggest savings and loan company, and AIG, the country's biggest insurer (and a leading sponsor of Manchester United), would survive the week. This was the week the crash of 2007-08 went nuclear.
Clearly, the events of the weekend now make a prolonged and deep recession far more likely. Forget all the talk about soft landings, or a recession so short and sharp that it will barely be noticed. It is now a question of whether there is a complete meltdown of the financial system, with institutions crashing like ninepins, or whether a severe rationing of credit over a prolonged period leads to falling house prices, weaker consumer spending, lower investment and rising unemployment . . .
The risks are particularly acute in Britain, where the financial sector accounts for a bigger share of the economy's output than in any comparable western country, and where the cull of employees in the City will have massive ripple effects throughout London and the south-east. The casualties will not just be the highly paid bankers, for whom there will be little sympathy, but also the car dealers, the shop assistants, the restaurant staff, the cleaners and all the other people whose employment has relied on the wealth (sic) generated in the markets.
In the light of this, the Downing Street mantra that Britain is better placed to withstand the global financial maelstrom than it was in the past is starting to grate . . .
Gary Younge, 6 November 2008
. . . Engaged where Bush was antagonistic, nuanced where Bush was brash, he regards international dialogue and cooperation as potential strengths rather than weaknesses and is one of the few members of America's political class who does not bear the stain of the Iraq invasion. Yesterday morning, for the first time in a long time, liberal Americans smiled and the world smiled with them.
While the fact of this transformation, from both below and above, cannot be denied, the scale and scope of it can be overstated. While Obama has pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq, he also seeks to escalate the war in Afghanistan. For all the talk of unity, two of the states that backed Obama (Florida and California) also elected to ban gay marriage. For all his financial and organisational advantage and the perils of the economic crisis, he still only won 52% of the vote against McCain's 46%. The most decisive Democratic win in more than 30 years, but nonetheless evidence that deep-seated division still lingers. Obama's room for manoeuvre, at home and abroad, is severely hampered by the economic chaos bequeathed by his predecessor.
These details are important. Yet they belong to the future. And Tuesday night belongs to history. The day when fear was defeated even in the privacy of the polling booths. The night when progress looked like a black family taking a stroll onto the world stage and into power. The moment when the patrons of the President's Lounge raised a glass and sang a song to history as it raced to greet them and made us all giddy.
Charlie Brooker, 16 November 2008
. . . I turned to the [Tatler's] Little Black Book section, which turned out to be an authoritative A-Z of overprivileged arseholes (most of them still in their early 20s), plus the occasional celeb, rated and compiled by the single biggest group of wankers in the universe. You're supposed to want to sleep with these people, and the text attempts to explain why. It's the ultimate in self-celebratory nothingness, 2,000 times worse than the worst ever article in Heat magazine. It includes five lords, six ladies, four princes, five princesses, two viscounts, three earls, a marquess, and 16 tittering poshos whose names are prefixed with the phrase "The Hon" (which, I've just discovered, means they're the son or daughter of a viscount or baron). Names like Cressida, Archie, Guy, Blaise and Freddie feature heavily. How annoying is it? Put it this way: James Blunt is also on the list, and he's the least objectionable person there.
Each entry takes the form of a chortling mini-biog guaranteed to make you want to punch the person it describes flat in the face. Thus, we learn that "Jakie Warren" is "the heart-throb who lives in the coolest house in Edinburgh and has the initials of all his best friends tattooed on his thigh . . . You can touch them but he'll make you buy shares in the racing syndicate he co-owns with Ed Sackville . . . Good in bed, we hear."
Or consider "The Hon Wenty Beaumont": "The growl, the growl – girls go weak for the growl . . . Utterly divine Christie's kid who enjoys nothing more than playing Pass the Pig during weekends at the family estate in Northumberland or in St Tropez."
In other words, the only thing these waddling bags of arseflesh have going for them is unrestricted access to a vast and unwarranted fortune. Strip away the coins and it reads like a list of the most boring people in Britain . . .
Buy a copy. No, don't. Stand in a shop flipping through the pages, deliberately fraying each corner as you go. Drink it in. Feel your impotent anger levels peaking. The headrush is good for you. Try it. You'll hate it . . . I'm off for a cry.
Stuart Jeffries, 3 February 2009
. . . After leaving the canal, I walked down through virgin snow in quiet back streets nestling right next to the Eurostar train line. A snowy bucolic idyll at the heart of the metropolis. I looked from Camley Street through the snow to the gothic tower of St Pancras – a Caspar David Friedrich painting had suddenly leapt before my eyes. . .
Hampstead Heath was like Narnia (though with none of CS Lewis's unwonted Christian allegorising). My God, I told myself as I walked through a heavenly avenue with snow-laden branches bejewelling my steps, this is the most beautiful city in the world! (I was delirious, high on pheromones, snow bonkers, and in need of a good slap).
I stand on Kite Hill, looking across the London panorama below and remember the ending of Joyce's The Dead. "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead." My soul was swooning (there, I admit it) yesterday as I stood and saw the snow falling, not on Joyce's Ireland, but on dirty old London, reborn as a thing of beauty. It was snowing from Epping Forest to Heathrow, Upminster to Uxbridge, on duke and dustman in a way that it hasn't for ages and probably won't for a good while. Savour it, I told myself.
Nancy Banks-Smith, 4 March 2009
So there I was, worrying, as we do in Ambridge, about foul in the foot and environmentally friendly forms of effluent control, when Matt "Tiger" Crawford's body hurtled past the window. Well, honestly! One might be living in Canary Wharf.
The Fraud Squad came thundering on The Dower House door at dawn. Before Matt could say, "The deputy chief constable is a very good friend of mine", he was hauled off to Borchester nick and charged with, essentially, robbing a bank. It seems the property empire of Chalkman and Crawford (Dream Homes Inc) has crashed with hideous ruin and combustion down to bottomless perdition, and the bank is not inclined to see the funny side of it. Chalky, of course, has flown the coop, leaving no forwarding address. All this leaves Tom's sausages looking a bit sick. There has been bad blood recently between Tom, who wants to sell Archer's Superior Sausages to the gentry, and Brian, who wants to sell Archer's Inferior Sausages to the hoi-polloi. Say what you like about city folk, I seldom fall out with my uncle over a sausage. Only three days ago, Matt promised to save Tom's bacon by buying Brian out (though, between you and me, this was hush money for Tom's girlfriend, Brenda, who knows where the bodies are buried).
I can feel the blood draining from my face like an environmentally friendly effluent system. Fraud! Blackmail! Embezzlement! In Ambridge (twinned with Brigadoon), where the deer and the antelope play? Where no snowflake falls, even when the rest of us are up to our armpits in the stuff? Where everyone is an Archer? Except, of course, Matt, who is an outsider.
On the credit side, he is the only one in Ambridge ever known to make a joke. So I am starting a Save the Tiger fund to pay for his defence or, failing that, his thermal underwear. I understand it gets quite nippy on the moor.
Amelia Gentleman, 18 March 2009
By midday on Wednesday, Louise Spencer has £6.80 left in her purse to last until Monday, which works out at £1.36 a day to pay for anything she and her two small children might need. She is confident that she will make the money stretch. It's just a question of careful budgeting.
Frugality is an art she has already perfected. This morning she has done the weekly shop, which came in 67p cheaper than the £20 she had set aside. Providing a week's worth of meals for three people for £6.66 a head is easy once you work out how, she says. The gas and electricity payments for the week have already been made, so she knows the children will be warm. The only thing to fear is the unexpected – a broken pushchair, a request to buy her daughter's class photograph.
Louise, 24, doesn't smoke, drink or take drugs and she very rarely goes out with her friends. She spends pretty much all the money she gets in benefits on her children. She rejects the suggestion that her family might be described as poor. "Oh no," she says firmly. "We get by."
According to the official definition, Louise's family are surviving well below the breadline, and Abigail, five, and her son Sean, three, take their place alongside the 3.9 million children in Britain classified as living in poverty.
Today marks the 10th anniversary of Tony Blair's promise to eradicate child poverty by 2020. In a lecture on his vision for the welfare state, he set out "our historic aim – that ours is the first generation to end child poverty for ever" . . . Gordon Brown echoed the commitment, describing child poverty as "a scar on the soul of Britain".
It was a slick soundbite of a promise, which prompted some scepticism at the time, but money has been spent and over the last 10 years there have been some modest improvements. In 1999 Britain had a higher proportion of children in poverty than any other western European nation. Since then, 600,000 have been lifted above the breadline; we're still bottom, only now we share the ignominy with Italy and Spain. About 30% of children remain beneath the breadline and the recession is likely to increase that number; the government's promise to halve the number of children in poverty by 2010 has been quietly swept under the carpet and no one expects it to be met . . .
Peter Bradshaw, 20 May 2009
Like the loyal German bourgeoisie in 1945, trying to keep patriotically cheerful despite the distant ominous rumblings of Russian tanks, we Tarantino fans have kept loyally optimistic on the Croisette this week. We ignored the rumourmongers, the alarmists and defeatists, and insisted that the Master would at the last moment fire a devastating V1 rocket of a movie that would lay waste to his, and our, detractors. But today the full catastrophe of his new film [Inglourious Basterds] arrived like some colossal armour-plated turkey from hell. The city of our hopes is in flames.
Quentin Tarantino's cod-WW2 shlocker about a Jewish-American revenge squad intent on killing Nazis in German-occupied France is awful. It is achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious. It isn't funny; it isn't exciting; it isn't a realistic war movie, yet neither is it an entertaining genre spoof or a clever counterfactual wartime yarn. It isn't emotionally involving or deliciously ironic or a brilliant tissue of trash-pop references. Nothing like that . . . The expression on my face in the auditorium as the lights finally went up was like that of the first-night's audience at Springtime for Hitler. Except that there is no one from Dusseldorf called Rolf to cheer us up.
Vic Marks, 24 August 2009
. . . Hussey clipped the ball to [Andrew]Flintoff's left and called his partner, Ricky Ponting, for a single. The Australian captain was a little slow to respond but there were no immediate alarms. Flintoff gathered the ball and hurled it at the stumps. Still Ponting was slow to recognise the danger. If he had the full-length dive was the appropriate response. And, of course, that throw splattered the stumps. The moment they were broken, Flintoff raised his arms in triumph, the now familiar pose. A second later he was engulfed by his colleagues. Flintoff knew; his teammates knew; the Australian captain did not want to know . . .
"It's the first time I've done that in my Test career," said Flintoff when asked about that instinctive direct hit. "I just picked it up and wanged it towards the stumps". This was on receipt of a magnum of champagne for that moment from BBC radio. "If I had known it was so easy to get this kind of reward, I think would have practised the fielding a bit more" he said . . .
Patrick Barkham, 1 September 2009
It is calving season in the Arctic. A flotilla of icebergs, some as jagged as fairytale castles and others as smooth as dinosaur eggs, calve from the ice sheet that smothers Greenland and sail down the fjords. The journey of these sculptures of ice from glaciers to ocean is eerily beautiful and utterly terrifying.
The wall of ice that rises behind Sermilik fjord stretches for 1,500 miles (2,400km) from north to south and smothers 80% of this country. It has been frozen for 3m years. Now it is melting, far faster than the climate models predicted and far more decisively than any political action to combat our changing climate. If the Greenland ice sheet disappeared, sea levels around the world would rise by seven metres, as 10% of the world's fresh water is currently frozen here.
This is also the season for science in Greenland. Glaciologists, seismologists and climatologists from around the world are landing on the ice sheet in helicopters, taking ice-breakers up its inaccessible coastline and measuring glaciers in a race against time to discover why the ice in Greenland is vanishing so much faster than expected.
Gordon Hamilton, a Scottish-born glaciologist from the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute, is packing up equipment at his base camp in Tasiilaq, a tiny, remote east-coast settlement only accessible by helicopter and where huskies howl all night.
With his spiky hair and ripped T-shirt, Hamilton could be a rugged glaciologist straight from central casting. Four years ago he hit upon the daring idea of landing on a moving glacier in a helicopter to measure its speed.
The glaciers of Greenland are the fat, restless fingers of its vast ice sheet, constantly moving, stretching down into fjords and pushing ice from the sheet into the ocean, in the form of melt water and icebergs.
"When we arrived there was no glacier to be seen. It was way up the fjord," he says. "We thought we'd made some stupid goof with the coordinates, but we were where we were supposed to be."
It was the glacier that was in the wrong place. A vast expanse had melted away . . .
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